What’s old is new again. Delivering on a particular brand of white-knuckled shoot em’ up, Blazing Chrome emulates the difficulty of its arcade forbears with brutal accuracy. Deeply indebted to both look and feel of Contra, you must blast your way through hordes of murderous robots in a desperate attempt to free humanity from your metallic oppressors. And like many of those old run and gun games, a single hit means that you are dead.
The unrelenting difficulty comes with its share of highs and lows, as every cathartic victory is accompanied by a plethora of deaths that occur due to a lack of knowledge about the level. While deaths don’t necessarily come from getting unlucky or faulty controls, it is exceedingly difficult to clear a checkpoint without memorizing part of or all of your enemy’s spawn patterns. Foes will quickly flood the screen, letting loose streams of bullets, or lunge at you with single-minded malice. Because of this, it can be very hard to react to everything around you, and during the more trying segments, it is necessary to figure out how to swiftly kill everything before it becomes impossible to maneuver due to the sheer number of foes.
Especially in the later levels, the process of completing a checkpoint is a slow crawl where each individual encounter must be at least somewhat committed to memory. While I generally enjoyed the challenge of piecing together each phase of action-oriented puzzles, there were more than a few times where I barely scraped through a long segment only to get instantly vaporized by some new enemy right before the next checkpoint. Considering how long some of the spaces are between checkpoints in the later levels, dying due to an unknown attack pattern and being forced to play a near-perfect run just to get back to where you were can feel backbreaking. And there are a rare couple of segments, such when you have to navigate a series of moving platforms, that throw so many stimuli at you that it only feels possible to succeed by slightly cheesing enemy spawns. At its worst this makes the Blazing Chrome feel like it has too much in common with its quarter-pilfering predecessors, the types of games that were designed to make you die repeatedly to rob you of your allowance. But luckily, this isn’t the arcade. You are enabled with infinite continues, and six lives per checkpoint, meaning that even the most brutal segments feel achievable with enough determination and commitment to learning the patterns.
It also helps that the platforming and combat feel snappy, granting you the tools to escape imminent death. There’s a quick roll that lets you evade bullets and blades, and you can aim in eight directions while moving or stationary to somewhat precisely blast foes. By pressing the attack button at point blank range you perform a melee slash that comes out instantly. There are also temporary upgrades that enable the use of different weapon types, some of which are particularly effective against certain segments or bosses. Although simple, this tool-set comes together to allow for some precise maneuvering. Inputs are recognized quickly, making it possible to best your foes despite the screen being constantly filled with projectiles.
While all of the enemy types are either close range or projectile based, there is enough variety in factors like their movement patterns and health to make each encounter feel like it has to be uniquely considered. Additionally, the boss design is quite excellent, with multistage duels that test both your pattern recognition and reaction times. There are a plethora of mid-level and stage ending boss fights which do a good job of breaking up the platforming action. The different stages of each fight feel telegraphed and fair, demanding varied combinations of precise play. My only complaint is that there are only occasionally save points before these encounters, meaning you must play through the preceding segment repeatedly while learning the patterns for each battle.
The visual sensibilities of the bosses are quite inspired, a pixel art treatment of Terminator-esque mechanical monsters that are equally intimidating and grotesque. Blazing Chrome’s aesthetic is quite strong in general, the arcade-influenced art style depicting a nightmarish post-apocalypse of raging crimson thunderstorms and jagged metal. Synthwave chiptunes and period appropriate voice-over work round out this homage to the heyday of coin-operated gaming that can only be described as rad.
In terms of overall gameplay variety, while there are a few vehicle segments, and one behind-the-back shooting sequence, the majority of the game is comprised of long sections of run and action, punctuated by encounters with formidable robotic monstrosities. While this mostly feels acceptable given the short playtime of around three-four hours on Medium difficulty, it does feel like there is more variance to be found in other similar games. Finishing Blazing Chrome on Medium unlocks both Hardcore mode and new characters that utilize melee combat. As the name implies, Hardcore mode requires ample time and dedication, as you are only permitted three continues with three lives per continue.
Blazing Chrome is a throwback to arcade run and guns that successfully emulates the blistering intensity of this style of game. Death comes fast and frequently, requiring quick reactions and ample pattern memorization. For a certain type of gamer, this challenge will be enticing, and the snappy controls leave the onus of responsibility squarely on the player’s shoulders. That said. the brutal difficulty and spread out checkpoints of the later levels will likely dissuade some. Deftly weaving through a storm of bullets that you’ve committed to memory, only to get wiped by a new phase of a level or boss, can be frustrating. But overall, although Blazing Chrome sticks fairly closely to the formula of games like Metal Slug and Contra, its great boss encounters, responsive gameplay, and 16-bit pixel art make it a faithful homage to an underrepresented subgenre.